Mary Wings: Giving Flight to the Car-Free Life By Stephanie Alting-Mees

Name Mary Wings
Age 54
Occupation Writer of novels, seller of quality recycled building materials
Neighborhood Precita Park
Member since 1998
So September was the one-year anniversary of giving up your car? Oh, all my friends thought I would die. They said, "You won't be able to get food! You won't be able to go out!" It was unbelievable how shocked people were.

And how have you fared? My bike life is wonderful. I mean, food--it's so easy. How much food does one person need? And I can fit it all on the back of my bike. And my friends all said, "You'll never go out." But there's enough to do in the Castro and Valencia for a full nightlife. Also, it's so much safer, especially for women, to ride a bike at night because that long walk back to the car is exactly when you get in trouble. Bicycling is the best solution to nightlife.

I can really do everything I need to do by bike. Except for two things: kitty litter and soda pop. First of all, soda pop was not a great habit of mine anyway and it really feels silly to bicycle home with ginsing ginger ale, so I've learned to make my own. It's so easy and it's so good and now I don't have to drag it home.

What about the kitty litter? It's great--my friends call me up and ask, "I'm going to Trader Joe's, would you like to come with me?" So I have all these outings now. And I get my kitty litter. Not having a car has also cut down on my consumption enormously. I have no option to just jump in the car and go somewhere. I spend a whole lot less money and that was a totally unintended consequence.

Also, my wonderful colleagues at the nonprofit Building Resources help me out a lot. Especially Dan--he's schlepped home my bike, wood, my dog Sparky. Oh, and my brother John. You know, you can live without a car, but you need other people's cars sometimes. The thing is, there's so many cars that it's not a problem. When you need one, one will be there.

You take your dog Sparky on your bike with you? Since I'm a writer, and since I can take Sparky to work, I can be with my dog all the time. It's the old milk crate solution. I first put her in it and just walked up and down the street, then I walked her around the block, and then I rode a little bit, and she got used to it. Now, when I pull my bike up in front of the stairs, she runs up the stairs, jumps in my arms, and gets in it. There's nothing a dog likes more than air in their face and going places.

It looks like you have a bag of safety vests with you. I really believe in visibility--it's key in city bicycling. Someone who's wearing black sneakers, black jeans, and a black helmet is still in trouble. So I have this collection of safety vests. My favorite--you won't see another one in this country--is my Amsterdam garbage collector's jacket. I found it at a flea market--it's the envy of every cyclist I know. (See photo above.)

Have you convinced any of your friends to go car-free? I cannot get my friends on a bike. I wonder, are we SFBC members all kind of like the extra people who ride bikes but we all live with car people? And no one talks about it! In this city, the divide between bicyclists and their car-loving friends is greater than the gay-straight divide. I don't understand, especially having lived in Holland for a long time--you just get on a bike. It's so part of the culture. It's not an environmental thing. It's transportation. When my Dutch friends come to visit, I have bikes for them and they go everywhere on them--they think nothing of it.

So what's a cyclist with car-loving friends to do? The antidote to all those car-crazy friends... is working down at the Bike Coalition. That's where you find friends to bike with and bicyclists tend to be wonderful people. Working down at the SFBC has really helped me develop nice friendships with people.

Mary Wings' Ginger Beer from a Reader's Digest cookbook

4 oz. dried ginger root
1 gal. water
Juice from 1 lemon
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 lb. sugar

Pound the ginger root to bruise it, then boil in 1/2 gal. water for about 20 minutes. Remove from stove and set aside. Mix lemon juice and packet of dry yeast in a cup of warm water; add to the water in which ginger root was boiled. Pour in remaining water; let mixture sit for 24 hours. Strain out the root and stir in sugar. Bottle and place in refrigerator. Do not store at room temperature; bottles may explode. Makes ten 12-oz. bottles.